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Friday, December 27, 2013

Of Styles And Substance

I don’t follow the logic. Whether the departure of AJ Styles from TNA is legitimate or part of a storyline isn’t really the issue for me. If it's real, TNA is letting one of its most talented performers drift away. If it's part of a storyline, then TNA is just doing what they've done so many times in the past, blurring the lines between real world concerns and storytelling to the point that fans don't know and don't care what to believe anymore. Either way, it's not good.

AJ deserves better, from the business and from wrestling fans. On December 16, Styles issued a public statement on his rather unceremonious (and relatively anticlimactic) parting of ways with the organization that’s been home to him for over a decade. Wrestling’s rumor mill is often rife with intrigue and venom, but with regard to Styles, the rhetoric seems uniquely ignoble. Here’s the backdrop: Since 2002, Styles has been an integral part of the U.S.' number-two promotion. Through some of the company’s more difficult stretches, he’s proven to be one of the most consistently entertaining folks on the roster. Hell, one could even make the argument that Styles helped build TNA into a credible, viable outlet for mainstream wrestling fans who might otherwise have ignored the company altogether. A top-ranked singles performer; a charismatic, energetic and able-bodied performer; a man with a passion for professional wrestling—it’s not too much of a stretch to say he’s TNA’s John Cena.

But that—all that—wasn’t enough for TNA to keep him down on the farm. And he’s just another name in a big list of folks who have slipped away from TNA this year. Stu Saks spelled it out in his “From The Desk Of...” column in the November 2013 issue of PWI when he provided a list of the folks who had been cut by TNA over the course of recent months. I wasn’t convinced, myself. Stu noted that his sources were saying that TNA was in “more trouble than it’s been in in a long while” at that point, but around the same time, I heard from some folks in the business that the state of the company was relatively strong. I don’t like disagreeing with Stu, anyway. It’s like arguing with my father-in-law about which tires are better for my car; I have my own reasons and preferences, but at the end of the day, I’d be crazy to go against the sage-like wisdom that comes with decades of experience.

Hogan’s departure, which followed the exodus that Stu Saks described, was a tremendous blow to TNA’s continuing assertions that everything was still going swimmingly for the company. The way he went out, with on-screen figurehead Dixie Carter on her knees begging him to stay, was especially embarassing. Maybe they didn’t expect things to shake out the way they did, but in retrospect, it’s really hard to see the wisdom in how the Hulkster’s exit was staged. Now we’re hearing that Jeff Jarrett, the architect of Total Nonstop Action wrestling and, for many years, the driving force behind the company on screen and behind the scenes, has officially left the company as well. Yet, as big as Hogan and Jarrett are with regard to the company’s origins and recent past, the potential loss of Styles is the biggest blow to an organization that is increasingly short on depth and substance these days.

Much to my surprise, I’ve seen a vocal contingent on social media sharing some rather bleak predictions about Styles’ potential future outside of TNA. I’ve read a lot of skepticism regarding Styles’ marketability as a WWE guy (which, all told, is likely more of a commentary on WWE than on Styles himself) and I’ve seen a fair amount of people questioning whether or not Styles could even become a formidable player in ROH and independent wrestling. Even's
 David Shoemaker took a rather mean-spirited swipe at Styles shortly before his departure of TNA, as well as Adam Pearce and Christopher Daniels, suggesting they’d missed their moment and likening them to “30-year-old(s) playing Triple-A ball.”

A lot of the critique seems more like parlor games and puffery as opposed to substantive analysis of Styles’ abilities and TNA’s struggles. Styles’ noteworthy run with TNA makes one thing very clear: these entities—the grappler and his longtime home—are best served staying together. For Styles, he’s a big fish in a relatively small pond and, when he’s allowed to shine and flourish, merits top billing solely because of how and what he does in the ring. For TNA, Styles is a bankable, reliable star who never lets his fans down. Is Styles tainted through his longstanding relationship with TNA? Maybe, but only to those who make up their minds by judging individual workers on the missteps and poor decisions of the company itself, which is a rather unfortunate and shortsighted perspective. The fact is, Styles deserves better and TNA can and should do better by him. In the words of some other big-time wrestling guy, “It’s what’s good for business.”

Mike Bessler
PWI Contributing Writer
@OfficialPWI Contributor

Friday, December 13, 2013

TLC: New Hype For Some Old Ideas

I don’t want to be one of those guys. You all know what I’m talking about. Those Internet guys. The guys who complain and complain and complain about every single angle going on in pro wrestling today. The ones who tweet, post, and blog about what’s wrong with the business but offer no new or substantive ideas on how it could someday get bettermostly because they’ll never be satisfied anyway. The ones who say there hasn’t been a good Monday Night Raw since 1997. But somehow, y’know, they’re still fans.  And hey, at the end of the day, I really don’t think I am one of those guys. But I have to admit that right here, right now, I do agree with them about one thing: The “big match” heading into TLC doesn’t have a whole lot going for it. Not much at all. Note that I am choosing my words carefully here because PWI Publisher Stu Saks tends frown upon the kind of coarse language that I’d rather use to describe the big Cena/Orton “showdown.”

It’s just tough, that’s all. It’s tough to get excited about this when it feels like all we’re being offered is a warmed up batch of leftovers from the back of pro wrestling’s gigantic, stainless steel LG refrigerator. Many, many voices on the 'net have sharply (and correctly) criticized the current incarnation of the Cena/Orton feud, largely because we’ve already seen it. More than once. And why would this particular showdownin which things have been just thrown together for the sake of choosing the “new” face of WWEbe more personal than the other ones? Like the time in 2007 that Orton shackled Cena to the ring while he punted Cena’s dad in the head…I mean that’s personal, folks. Or how about when Orton’s 2010 win over Wade Barrett resulted in Cena’s brief exile from WWE? Those were some high stakes, right? The point here is that we’ve seen these guys before. Sure, they can work a match, but it seems like WWE is just putting some lipstick on the same old cash cows.

And the title unification thing? Again, we’ve been down this road before. Is the title unification for keepsies this time or is this just another story that’ll be undone in a few weeks or a few months when the story gets stale? I think my friend and fellow PWI contributor Kevin McElvaney captured the cynicism of a lot of frustrated fans when he jokingly told me that the TLC main event should be re-christened as the “No, It's Only Going to Be One Belt, For Real This Time!” match. 

In a recent message to their text subscribers, WWE kept up their full-court press for the forthcoming showdown, asking fans if TLC’s Cena/Orton main event is “the biggest match in WWE history.” It was a rhetorical question, though, because it wasn’t attached to any particular poll. But really … Bigger than Hogan and Andre? Bigger than Michaels and Austin? Bigger than Rock and Cena? Bigger than Sammartino and Morales? It was the aforementioned text that got me thinking: Is there any other sport or form of entertainment that consistently hypes its product to a level that makes it almost impossible to deliver at the end of the day? I think the potential is usually there, but most comparable enterprises resist the temptation to do so just in case they don’t deliver … so that they don’t hurt their overall product in the end.

Did anyone know that the Rams and Titans would put on one of the best championship games ever before the kickoff for Super Bowl XXXIV was in the air? Nah. Can anyone say that a World Series will have a nail-biter ending in Game 7 before the first pitch? Nope. But can we say that Sunday’s champion vs. champion match at TLC is the most important contest in WWE history? In this case, logic is absolutely turned on its head by the hype machine because WWE suggests it could very well be the best ever. 

Sure, this could all be an elaborate set-up for a much larger and more exciting story that naysayers like me are too shortsighted to imagine. But with a healthy mix of recycled ideas and a shaky build for Orton as convincing and formidable opposition to Cena’s veritable freight train of momentum, it’s really hard to get excited about Sunday's main event.

Mike Bessler
PWI Contributing Writer
@OfficialPWI Contributor

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The All-Too-Real World Of Wrestling

On Saturday afternoon, I presented Cheerleader Melissa with a plaque for being named number-one in the 2013 "PWI Female 50." On Sunday afternoon, I stood at her side in a hospital in suburban Chicago, as a doctor sewed 10 in stitches to close a nasty gash in her left eyebrow.

It’s funny how quickly wrestling can take a person from center stage to the emergency room.

I started with PWI in 1997. Through the years, many promotions have afforded me the luxury of having open access to the wrestlers backstage before and after shows. SHIMMER has been particularly accommodating to me, and I have formed several friendships with members of the roster and staff. Making the trek from Buffalo, NY, to Berwyn, IL, for SHIMMER taping weekends (four DVD tapings over a two-day span, or about 16 hours of wrestling during a marathon session) has become a highlight on my wrestling calendar.

On Sunday afternoon, I was seated on a closed off area behind the camera. Seated next to me was Lisa Marie Varon, the former Victoria/Tara, who hosted the official SHIMMER after-party at her restaurant The Squared Circle. SHIMMER Volume 60 was drawing to a close, as two-time SHIMMER champion Cheerleader Melissa defended the title against LuFisto in a terrific match. Melissa and LuFisto were battling in the far corner, with their backs to the stage where we were sitting, when LuFisto caught Melissa with an elbow to the face. It looked like a routine elbowsmash from my vantage point, and Melissa fought back, lifting LuFisto onto her shoulders. “Electric Chair,” Lisa whispered, not so much to me, as much as out of the genuine excitement of being caught up in the action. But before Melissa could fall back and slam LuFisto from her shoulders to the mat, LuFisto executed a reverse rana, flipping Melissa over backward.

I cringed. It looked to me like Melissa had landed hard on crown of her head. Through the mass of hair covering her face, I thought I saw blood begin to trickle down her forehead. Was it blood or was it just sweat-matted hair? I had a bad feeling and I stood up, craning to see if she was hurt, as the referee dove in to check on her. I saw Melissa reach up and gingerly dab at her forehead; her hand came away red with blood.

“She’s busted open,” I said. Lisa leaned in to look as Melissa raised her head. Blood was beginning to stream down her face. I heard Lisa gasp “oh no.”

The weird thing about wrestling: You might think that the more you understand the nuances of the sport, the more jaded you would become about big moves. That’s not true. In actuality, you become more keenly aware of anything that can go wrong on even the most “routine” move. I was afraid she had split open her scalp and that she was too stunned to continue.

I hurried backstage. The crew watching on the small monitor couldn’t see that she was bleeding yet. “Melissa’s bleeding!” I called out to SHIMMER official Allison Danger, who was near the monitor. “Her head. It looks bad.”

By now, Melissa had gotten back to her feet and the blood pouring down her face was visible on camera.

One thing fans never experience is the atmosphere backstage when someone is injured. People crowded to the monitors, people ran to grab ice and clean towels. “What happened?” “Can she finish?” “Is she okay?”
Wrestling can be a mercenary business where people compete for positions and spots on the card. But when someone gets hurt, the locker room is united in concern. It’s a tight-knit fraternity, and if one wrestler in injured, everyone rushes in to help if they can.

Fortunately, Melissa’s injury wasn’t as severe as I feared. She didn’t land on her head with the rana; she had been busted open by the innocuous elbow, which caught her square on the eyebrow. There was no concussion or additional injuries. She was able to finish the match, and came back through the curtain to find a dozen of us clustered around her, ready to offer her water, towels, and bandages.

I’m not a member of the roster by any means, but the SHIMMER family has been so welcoming to me through the years that I feel like I’m part of the crew. Several people volunteered to help. Some were asked to help Melissa clean up and assist her in getting changed. Someone was asked to watch over her merchandise as intermission began. I was asked to take her to the hospital.

I drove Melissa to a nearby hospital and waited with her in the emergency room. “This is the kind of thing the fans never get to see,” Melissa said. Just a few miles away, Cheerleader Melissa was an iconic persona, a champion recently honored for being the best in the world at what she does by an international magazine. But in that hospital room, she was just Melissa Anderson, one of maybe three dozen people waiting to see a doctor on a Sunday evening in suburban Chicago.

Melissa received her stitches, and we hurried back to the Berwyn Eagles Club, just in time for her to make a surprise appearance, interfering in the main event and costing LuFisto her match against Mercedes Martinez. Melissa may wind up with a scar, but other than that, she was okay.
As I brought Melissa back to the venue and she rushed off, intent to get back into the ring, it struck me that I had a unique vantage point of the entire incident – from watching with the crowd to alerting the back, from helping attend to Melissa as others assessed the damage to sitting beside her as a surgeon stitched her back together. It had been a whirlwind of main-event highs, fear, panic, concern, compassion, and an intoxicating relief, and it had been experienced, in varying degrees, by everyone in the SHIMMER crew. As a writer, I felt it was my obligation to share the experience with you – the reader.

This is wrestling. And sometimes, in a stark emergency room on a gloomy fall night, it’s more real than you'd imagine.

Dan Murphy
PWI Senior Writer (medical transporter and photographer)

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Together Raw Stands, Divided It Falls

One thing that has stuck out recently, in a WWE landscape increasingly dominated by antagonists, there is an absence of true heroes. Sure, there are plenty of fan favorites to go around. They wrestle by the rules, sign autographs, and generally try to portray themselves as model citizens to wrestling fans across the globe. The real problem with these “good guys” is the lack of interest many of them seem to take in the common good of the WWE locker room.

Think of all the situations in recent years – and, particularly, in recent months – where defenseless competitors have been isolated and maimed by packs of wrestlers or in clearly unfair situations. Consider The Wyatt Family’s relentless decimation of Kane over the summer. Week after week, almost without exception, the Wyatt clan was allowed to do this, completely unchallenged by a locker room of wrestlers who could’ve put a stop to it. More recently, we’ve seen The Shield and Randy Orton run roughshod over Daniel Bryan, Dolph Ziggler, and others. Again, we saw this go on for weeks, with no one standing up to those four men.

Sure, Triple-H made threats to fire people who interfered with what was “best for business.” It’s also true that, on the September 16 edition of Raw, a group of fan favorites finally did come to the aid of Bryan. Apparently, they’d “had enough.” It’s worth noting, though, that most of the men who helped Bryan fight off The Shield that night had previously been the victim of Shield and/or Orton attacks themselves. The decision to help Bryan was probably fueled by more than mere altruism.

On the September 23 edition of Raw, the same men who’d aligned themselves with Bryan the week before were placed on his team. In the night’s main event, 11 of Raw’s fan favorites took on The Shield in an 11-on-3 handicap match. To the surprise of many WWE fans, only four of those 11 men survived the elimination match. Surely, The Shield members were formidable opponents, but why were seven fan favorites unable to best three other wrestlers, especially with the backing of four talented partners?

The answer to that question, of course, is the fact that several of the 11 wrestlers on Bryan’s team had been subjected to unscrupulous beat-downs earlier that night. The Prime Time Players had faced an uneven assault from The Wyatt Family, while Rob Van Dam and Kofi Kingston each succumbed to ruthless attacks that left them bandaged up and unable to perform to their usual standards. What’s worse is that, with the backing of other fan favorites, these attacks could have been avoided or, at the very least, the damage minimized. Where, indeed, was Bryan to save RVD from his extended beating at the hands of Orton and Alberto Del Rio? Where were The Usos? Where were these men, earlier in the evening, when CM Punk was double-teamed by Ryback and Curtis Axel? For that matter, why hasn’t Punk stood up for his old friend (and sometimes rival) Bryan? If anyone knows what Bryan is going through right now, it is Punk – who faced the very same forms of harassment from Triple-H a mere two years ago.

To be clear, there is no way that a band of good guys can come to the rescue of every co-worker who is attacked on an episode of Raw or Smackdown. The risks are too high, and the frequency of these events is too great. Still, as the years pass, there seems to be less and less WWE locker room camaraderie, with a greater focus on the individual. That’s fine, for most purposes. Problems begin to arise when an authority figure like Triple-H rules with an iron fist, and there is little to no locker room unity to be found. This allows the Ortons, Shields, and Wyatts of the world to keep doing what they’re doing, while others languish as perpetual underachievers. There is a pretty clear solution to the problem, but will the fan favorites truly come together … or will they continue to suffer individually?

Kevin McElvaney
PWI Contributing Writer

Friday, August 16, 2013

No Big Deal? Young's "Coming Out" Certainly Is!

I spent the afternoon of May 10, 1987, with some colored markers and a white bed sheet sprawled across my parents’ living room floor. That night, I would attend my very first live wrestling event, a WWF house show at the Nassau Coliseum headlined by Randy “Macho Man” Savage taking on Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat inside a steel cage. But one of the wrestlers I looked forward most to seeing in person was “Adorable” Adrian Adonis.

It wasn’t because I was a fan of “The Adorable One.” On the contrary, like most young WWF fans at the time, I despised Adonis—one of WWE’s top heels. So deep was my hatred for Adonis that I took marker to linen and drew an unflattering caricature of him accompanied with some taunting text. Unfortunately, Adonis no-showed the event, and I had ruined a perfectly good bed sheet for nothing.
Some 26 years later, I don’t recall exactly what insults I had written on that sheet, but I can safely assume what they were about. You see, about a year earlier Adonis—once a motorcycle jacket-wearing tough guy—bleached his hair, began wearing makeup, and put bows in his hair. 

In case Adonis’ transformation was a little too subtle for some fans, he clarified matters while appearing as a guest on the WWF's campy 1980’s talk show, Tuesday Night Titans. With WWF owner Vince McMahon sitting behind the host’s desks, Adonis stood up from a couch and proclaimed, “Yes, I’m gay.” A chorus of boos from the “audience”—comprised of WWF plants—followed.

In the subsequent months, Adonis did everything to get cheap heat out of his new character. He wrestled in a dress, which Hulk Hogan once pulled off to reveal a padded bra. He planted kisses on a life-sized cardboard cut out of Paul Orndorf. He hosted an interview segment named, “The Flower Shop.”

It was hardly new territory, as the effeminate heel character had long been a staple of wrestling, dating back to television pioneer Gorgeous George. And it always played out the same way: The flamboyant bad guy would prance around the ring. Fans would chant insults at him that I couldn’t print here. And the disgusted, macho good guy would teach him a lesson. 

It was a proven formula, and it worked on me all those years ago. To a nine-year-old me, Adrian Adonis was evil because he was gay, and I wanted nothing more than to see someone beat him up.

It’s with that backdrop that the news of Darren Young coming out takes special significance. It’s about more than being the first openly gay, active WWE wrestler. It’s about most people being okay with it.

As has been the case in all professional sports and fields of entertainment, there have undoubtedly been gay WWE performers over the years. A few are common knowledge among longtime wrestling fans, and many more have kept their lifestyles a closely guarded secret. 

But what we’ve never seen in wrestling is the issue—or non-issue—of homosexuality handled with dignity, until now. 

“I’m a WWE Superstar and, to be honest with you, I’ll tell you right now, I’m gay. And I’m happy, very happy,” Young matter-of-factly told a TMZ reporter. “To be honest, I don’t think it matters.”

Young’s right. It doesn’t matter. And, that’s why it does.

Although some people may dismiss Young’s announcement as a “non-story,” the truth is it is a big deal—not because he’s a gay pro wrestler, but because, ostensibly, he has been his whole career and it’s never been an issue. Judging from John Cena’s reaction in a separate TMZ interview, Young’s homosexuality was well known in WWE. And, yet, there’s been no evidence that it’s factored into the career of the "Prime Time Player," whose  Twitter profile boasts that his “life revolves around three things—money, women, and wrestling.”

So far everyone in WWE has handled Young’s announcement with class. Some may question why WWE felt the need to issue a statement all on the issue, but the fact is it was likely bombarded with questions from the media on the issue. The statement read  that WWE “is proud of Darren Young for being open about his sexuality.” Cena, Triple-H, and Stephanie McMahon all offered words of support and encouragement as well.

A cynical person may question the motivations of Young—a lower-card performer now getting more positive mainstream publicity than he could have ever hoped for. And you may even wonder why a TMZ reporter would be interviewing Young, who is hardly a mainstream celebrity, at all—much less on the peculiar topic of gays in wrestling. Did I mention SummerSlam, one of WWE’s biggest shows of the year, is this Sunday?

To be sure, there’s a bit of hypocrisy surrounding Young’s coming out—some of which I’m guilty of committing with this blog. After all, if it’s not a big deal, then why am I bothering to write this? Why has it, in just a few hours, become one of the biggest mainstream news stories coming out of WWE in years?

The answer is simple: because Darren Young is a public figure. And that’s where some real good can come out of this—just as it does every time any celebrity makes the courageous decision to go public about something that is intrinsically private, and, really, nobody’s business. It’s because if a pro wrestler, watched on TV by millions of fans each week, says he’s happy being gay, it makes it that much easier for some anxious high school student to do the same.

Young appears ready to embrace that opportunity.

“I’m hoping to be able to make a difference,” said Young, who is scheduled to take part in an anti-bullying event held by WWE in Los Angeles this weekend. “It’s very important to me that people understand that someone’s sexual preference shouldn’t really matter. It should be about the person.”

That’s a far cry from the constant jokes made by WWE commentators in the 1980s and 1990s whenever the subject of Pat Patterson or Terry Garvin came up. It’s worlds removed from the over-the-top antics that TNA scripted for Orlando Jordan after he acknowledged being bisexual. Even the late Chris Kanyon couldn’t come out near the end of his career without deliberately creating confusion over whether it was part of the show.

And it’s certainly a long way from “Adorable” Adrian Adonis. 

Al Castle
PWI Senior Writer

Photo: Darren Young interviewed by Matt Lauer on Today  (Peter Kramer/NBC)

Monday, August 5, 2013

Our Fearless "500" Forecasts Revealed!

As we say in the journalism business, the 2013 "PWI 500" has officially been put to bed. And although the issue won’t be available in digital format until August 22 and then hit the newsstands on September 17, we do have a "PWI 500" top 10 list for you to peruse. In fact, we have several.

You see, after putting together last year’s 
"PWI 500" (the digital edition  is still available for purchase) the PWI staff embarked on a fun project: predicting the 2013 "PWI 500's " top 10 a year in advance.

In doing so, we did our best to forecast who would rise to—or remain at—the top of sport over the following 12 months. The results are interesting, and for some of us, a little embarrassing.

While doing our best to avoid spoilers for the actual top 10 list, it’s clear that some of us were way off, while others showed better-than-average soothsaying abilities.

--Even a year ago, most of the PWI staff predicted John Cena and CM Punk would continue to reign atop the wrestling world. Half the team picked Cena to three-peat as the number-one ranked wrestler. Two other votes came in for CM Punk to top the list. Proving why he is our fearless leader, Stu Saks went out on a limb and predicted then-TNA World champion Austin Aries would achieve the top ranking.

--There were a few other wrestlers we expected to have a better year than they did. Again, while trying to avoid any major spoilers, I think it’s safe to say Bobby Roode, James Storm, Randy Orton, and Michael Elgin—who all made it onto more than one of our lists—didn’t live up to our expectations. A couple of us even picked The Miz to make it to the Top 10. Yes, really.

--In the “We didn’t see that coming” category, none of us picked Bully Ray, who ranked number 30 last year, to have a lengthy reign as TNA World champion.

--Even though he was still a mid-card act losing most of his matches, four of us picked Dolph Ziggler to break into the top 10 in this year’s list. We won’t give away whether he did or did not, but we certainly were right in predicting big things for the “Showoff” in 2013.

Here’s the full set of Top 10 predictions, all written on July 24-25, 2012. Let us know how you think we did in the comments section:

Stu Saks, Publisher
1. Austin Aries
2. CM Punk
3. John Cena
4. Sheamus
5. Davey Richards
6. Randy Orton
7. Hiroshi Tanahashi
8. Bobby Roode
9. Daniel Bryan
10. Alberto Del Rio

Dan Murphy, Senior Writer
1. John Cena
2. Randy Orton
3. Sheamus
4. Hiroshi Tanahashi
5. Dolph Ziggler
6. Alberto Del Rio
7. CM Punk
8. Bobby Roode
9. The Miz
10. Michael Elgin

Al Castle, Senior Writer
1. CM Punk
2. John Cena
3. James Storm
4. Dolph Ziggler
5. Randy Orton
6. Hiroshi Tanahashi
7. Daniel Bryan
8. Austin Aries
9. Bobby Roode
10. Michael Elgin

Kevin McElvaney, Contributing Writer
1. CM Punk
2. Dolph Ziggler
3. Austin Aries
4. Kevin Steen
5. John Cena
6. Daniel Bryan
7. James Storm
8. Hiroshi Tanahashi
9. Sheamus
10. The Miz

Mike Bessler, Contributing Writer
1. John Cena
2. Austin Aries
3. CM Punk
4. Daniel Bryan
5. Bobby Roode
6. Sheamus
7. Hiroshi Tanahashi
8. Alberto Del Rio
9. James Storm
10. Kevin Steen

Brady Hicks, Contributing Writer
1. John Cena
2. CM Punk
3. Austin Aries
4. Dolph Ziggler
5. Bobby Roode
6. Hiroshi Tanahashi
7. Daniel Bryan
8. Sheamus
9. Eddie Edwards
10. Randy Orton


Tuesday, June 4, 2013

It's About Time For Daniel Bryan

If you were paying attention to Jerry Lawler’s commentary Monday night, during Daniel Bryan’s match against Ryback, you might have heard a fleeting comment about whales sometimes winding up on beaches. Lawler quickly added, “size doesn’t matter.” He was referring, of course, to Daniel Bryan’s success in what once was a veritable land of giants.

When Bryan first debuted on WWE TV, he was belittled by some (namely, Michael Cole) as an Internet darling who didn’t deserve a national spotlight. Sure, he had been astonishing indy wrestling fans with his technical skill for over a decade, but he was deemed too vanilla, too puny for prime time television. He was a vegan who didn't own a TV, fans were constantly reminded.

Of course, Daniel Bryan far exceeded Cole’s initial expectations. He not only found success in the ring – while still putting on exciting, technical matches – he displayed a keen sense of humor and made connections with fans of all stripes. Whether they were chanting “Yes! Yes! Yes!” or “No! No! No!,” everyone was making noise for the former “darling” of the indy circuit. Bryan even won the World heavyweight championship in late-2011, defending it successfully until WrestleMania 28. He had arrived.

More recently, of course, Bryan has kept himself busy as a tag competitor. He and Kane’s run with the tag team title reestablished the division as a focal point of weekly Raw broadcasts. Live crowds began to rally increasingly behind Bryan, ostensibly turning him into a fan favorite. Slowly, Bryan has begun to appreciate the adulation, and his in-ring performances have continued to improve. It’s arguable that, even if he’s not yet the star of Raw, his segments steal the show on a weekly basis.

Consider the last few weeks a turning point for Bryan. When the public demands something, especially in the wrestling world, its demands must eventually be met. When Bryan singlehandedly dominated The Shield on a recent edition of Smackdown, it was the roar of the crowd that enabled him to do so, in more ways than one. And don’t think that folks backstage didn’t notice the way fans reacted when Bryan put Ryback in the “No Lock” on Raw. Ryback was so desperate, after that, he opted to get himself intentionally disqualified, rather than risk the pain of yet another submission hold. Keep in mind, the man who couldn’t beat Daniel Bryan is the current number-one contender to John Cena’s WWE title.

It’s only a matter of time, really. Bryan’s last run as World champion made him recognizable to a worldwide audience. He’s only gotten better since then, taking down giants and gaining ground with every week that passes. If he really wants to prove himself, as he alluded to on Raw, then there’s only one thing left to do…and it has nothing to do with the tag division. John Cena? Ryback? Watch out. Daniel Bryan is coming.

Kevin McElvaney
Contributing Writer / @OfficialPWI Contributor 

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Are You Listening, WWE?

Earlier today WWE announced that WrestleMania 29 was the highest-grossing event in the company’s history. And while WWE executives and stoc holders may be thrilled with the record-breaking revenue WrestleMania brought in, it is of little comfort to the scores of fans who were left underwhelmed by the event. 

Yes, I am quite late in weighing in on the April 7 event, which I attended in person. And maybe that’s a good thing. Perspectives always benefit from the passage of time, and while I thoroughly enjoyed the show, I now understand why many fans did not.

My first reaction when I read the litany of negative reviews was, “What were they expecting?” WrestleMania 29 went almost exactly as I thought it would: John Cena beat the Rock. The Undertaker’s streak remained intact. And, all-in-all, the night’s matches went about as I figured they would.

But maybe that’s just it. The problem isn’t that WWE gave fans what they expected; it’s that what fans expected and what they wanted were two different things.

As vehemently opposed as I am to the Vince Russo booking philosophy of unpredictability for unpredictability’s sake, WWE also can’t stubbornly tell the stories it wants to tell—as logical as they may be—if the fans simply don’t want to hear them.

I’ve often made the argument that, just like in all storytelling, the predictable outcome is often the right one. Good conquers evil, the guy gets the girl, and they all live happily ever after. And while that argument remains sound, there’s one thing I didn’t consider: It’s not enough to simply tell a story logically. Fans have to be interested in that story to begin with. And that’s where WWE has a big problem. Never was that more apparent than the night after WrestleMania, when 16,000 fans inside the IZOD Center absolutely refused to go along with the storylines that WWE was offering. They cheered passionately when Ziggler, a rulebreaker, dishonorably captured the World championship. They sang along with the theme music for Fandango, another bad guy. And they heckled supposed fan favorites Randy Orton and Sheamus throughout their match.

And then, of course, there’s WWE's biggest conundrum of all: the fact that its number-one hero, John Cena, gets the loudest boos every night.

Clearly, there’s an unrest among many WWE fans that has grown too big to simply ignore. This isn’t to say that WWE should acquiesce to short-sighted and unrealistic fantasy bookers whose ideal WrestleMania would have included Ziggler cashing in, Punk ending the Streak, and Cena turning heel.

But it is to say that WWE should do a better job of listening to its fans. I think most of those fans aren’t asking for a complete overhaul of WWE, but rather just a sincere effort to mix things up a bit.

In truth, WWE is doing a much better job at keeping its product fresh than it was just a few years ago, when Cena faced Randy Orton in nearly every WWE pay-per-view main event. Relatively new acts like The Shield and Ryback have been featured prominently, and there has been a steady stream of talent debuting on the major brands.
But WWE shouldn’t rest on its laurels, and shouldn’t dismiss the sentiments of its fans when they’re not going along with the storylines. 

Al Castle
PWI Senior Editor

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

WrestleMania 29: PWI Staff Picks

Some questions surrounding this Sunday’s WrestleMania are tough to answer. How will WWE keep its wrestlers warm in 40-degree temperatures? What color shirt will John Cena unveil? How long will it take The Undertaker to beat CM Punk?

Still, our staff members believe they have the answers to who will come out victorious in the show’s matches. Here are there picks:

Wade Barrett vs. The Miz for the Intercontinental championship

Stu Saks: The Miz
Dan Murphy: The Miz
Harry Burkett: Wade Barrett
Al Castle: The Miz
Dave Lenker: Wade Barrett
Louie Dee: Wade Barrett
Kevin McElvaney: Wade Barrett
Mike Bessler: The Miz

Commentary: Our staff is evenly split on who will come away with the Intercontinental title at WrestleMania. On one hand, the “Barrett Barrage” has shown no signs of slowing down. On the other, WWE seems insistent on having The Miz win over fans. Kicking off the biggest show of the year with a title victory would be an important step in that direction.

Brodus Clay, Tensai, Cameron, & Naomi vs. Rhodes Scholars (Cody Rhodes & Damien Sandow) & the Bella Twins in a mixed eight-person tag match

Stu Saks: Team Brodus
Dan Murphy: Team Brodus
Harry Burkett: Team Brodus
Al Castle: Team Brodus
Dave Lenker: Team Brodus
Louie Dee: Team Brodus
Kevin McElvaney: Rhodes, Sandow, & Bellas
Mike Bessler: Team Brodus

Commentary: The PWI
team is solidly behind “Tons Of Funk” to get the duke in what will likely be more of a feel-good dance party than an actual wrestling match. Whatever the case, let’s hope Brodus leaves his Momma dance troop at home this time.

Chris Jericho vs. Fandango

Stu Saks: Chris Jericho
Dan Murphy: Fandango
Harry Burkett: Chris Jericho
Al Castle: Chris Jericho
Dave Lenker: Fandango
Louie Dee: Fandango
Kevin McElvaney: Chris Jericho
Mike Bessler: Chris Jericho

Commentary: With his ridiculous new character, it’s hard to take Fandango seriously. And so we are not. As logical as it would seem for WWE to give a newcomer an important win in his first match, we’re not sold on the former Johnny Curtis having what it takes to beat a world-class wrestler like Jericho on such a big stage.

Daniel Bryan & Kane vs. Dolph Ziggler & Big E. Langston for the tag team championship

Stu Saks: Bryan & Kane
Dan Murphy: Ziggler & Langston
Harry Burkett: Bryan & Kane
Al Castle: Ziggler & Langston
Dave Lenker: Ziggler & Langston
Louie Dee: Ziggler & Langston
Kevin McElvaney: Bryan & Kane
Mike Bessler: Bryan & Kane

Commentary: It’s only appropriate that half our staff would answer the question of whether Team Hell No will retain the tag championship with an emphatic “Yes!” while the other half would reply with a firm “No!” Even if Ziggler comes up short in this title match, he may just leave MetLife Stadium with another championship, courtesy of that dusty briefcase he’s been lugging around since July.

Mark Henry vs. Ryback

Stu Saks: Ryback
Dan Murphy: Ryback
Harry Burkett: Ryback
Al Castle: Ryback
Dave Lenker: Mark Henry
Louie Dee: Ryback
Kevin McElvaney: Mark Henry
Mike Bessler: Mark Henry

Commentary: Most of our staff is convinced that the “Big Hungry” will scarf down his biggest meal to date at WrestleMania in the form of the 400-pound Henry. But a few are counting on the “World’s Strongest Man” dealing Ryback a rare singles defeat in one of his biggest matches to date. Don’t look for this one to be particularly pretty, but you can’t count on some amazing feats of strength.

The Shield vs. Randy Orton, Sheamus, & Big Show

Stu Saks: The Shield
Dan Murphy: Orton, Sheamus, & Show
Harry Burkett: The Shield
Al Castle: The Shield
Dave Lenker: Orton, Sheamus, & Show
Louie Dee: The Shield
Kevin McElvaney: The Shield
Mike Bessler: Orton, Sheamus, & Show

Commentary: WWE’s rogue law enforcers will continue their reign of terror, according to most of the PWI
staff. Orton, Sheamus, and The Big Show may represent The Shield’s biggest challenge to date, but they can’t seem to get on the same page. It will take a truly unified front to bring down The Shield.

Alberto Del Rio vs. Jack Swagger for the World championship

Stu Saks: Alberto Del Rio
Dan Murphy: Jack Swagger
Harry Burkett: Jack Swagger
Al Castle: Jack Swagger
Dave Lenker: Alberto Del Rio
Louie Dee: Alberto Del Rio
Kevin McElvaney: Alberto Del Rio
Mike Bessler: Alberto Del Rio

Commentary: WWE seems high on Del Rio’s potential as a superhero for its Hispanic audience, and getting the win here over the vile Swagger and his hate-spewing manager, Zeb Colter, may be key in that effort. We’re counting on A-D-R to pick up the W-I-N, but aren’t completely ruling out the possibility of Swagger winning his second World title.

Triple-H vs. Brock Lesnar in a no-holds-barred match with Triple-H’s career on the line

Stu Saks: Brock Lesnar
Dan Murphy: Triple-H
Harry Burkett: Brock Lesnar
Al Castle: Brock Lesnar
Dave Lenker: Brock Lesnar
Louie Dee: Triple-H
Kevin McElvaney: Triple-H
Mike Bessler: Triple-H

Commentary: Once again, we’re evenly split on the outcome of this high-stakes showdown. To keep Brock Lesnar’s reputation in tact as wrestling’s most dangerous man, a win here seems almost necessary—especially after having already lost one of his only two matches since returning to WWE a year ago. And, really, given Triple-H’s scarce television appearance, an official retirement is only a formality. That said, with the honor of his best friend Shawn Michaels, his wife Stephanie, his father-in-law Vince McMahon on the line, it’s hard to picture “The Game” losing.

The Undertaker vs. C.M. Punk

Stu Saks: The Undertaker
Dan Murphy: The Undertaker
Harry Burkett: The Undertaker
Al Castle: The Undertaker
Dave Lenker: The Undertaker
Louie Dee: The Undertaker
Kevin McElvaney: The Undertaker
Mike Bessler: The Undertaker

Commentary: None of us are buying that wrestling’s most revered winning streak will come to an end at the hands of CM Punk. But while the outcome may be a given, we’re still excited about what will likely be match of the night, and maybe, match of the year. And when 21-0 flashes on the Tron, we’re confident that, from somewhere, Paul Bearer will be watching with pride.

The Rock vs. John Cena for the WWE championship

Stu Saks: John Cena
Dan Murphy: John Cena
Harry Burkett: John Cena
Al Castle: John Cena
Dave Lenker: The Rock
Louie Dee: John Cena
Kevin McElvaney: John Cena
Mike Bessler: John Cena

Commentary: All signs are pointing to John Cena getting redemption, and the WWE heavyweight title, on Sunday night. Although the sequel may lack some of the intrigue of the original, the sport’s most prestigious championship is sure to up the stakes exponentially. A thrilling bout is almost guaranteed. The bigger question may be: When do we get the rubber match?

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

It's Now Or Never For "The Show-Off"

Dolph Ziggler has, for some time now, been on the cusp of becoming a true main-eventer. The Money in the Bank briefcase, ever in his grasp, has served as a visual reminder to fans that Ziggler is “almost there.” At any moment, in fact, Dolph could opt to take his guaranteed World title shot and, in all likelihood, he would become champion. With the exception of a fluke loss by John Cena last year, everyone who has cashed in a MITB briefcase has struck gold. So, with the odds heavily weighted in Ziggler’s favor, what’s he waiting for?

It’s possible that, if he sits idle too much longer, Dolph may regret biding his time. Sure, Edge went almost nine months before cashing in the first-ever Money in the Bank briefcase, and it worked out splendidly for him. Edge, however, remained dominant while holding on to his contract, finally striking only when he was most ready to be a credible champion. This has, arguably, not been the case with Dolph. When Ziggler captured the MITB briefcase last July, he seemed poised to become the hottest commodity in WWE. In recent months, he’s underachieved, to say the least. We’re not suggesting that Daniel Bryan and Kofi Kingston aren’t great athletes, but a near-main-eventer like Dolph should be steamrolling over that kind of competition. Instead, his infrequent wins have come only through the assistance of Big E Langston and AJ Lee.

Say Dolph cashes in successfully at WrestleMania, capturing the World title from the winner of the Alberto Del Rio/Jack Swagger match. Will he be ready to rebuff attempts by Del Rio or Swagger to reclaim the strap? Assuming he makes it past those men, he’ll find the entire Smackdown roster standing in line. Randy Orton, Sheamus, Big Show, and other heavy hitters will all be gunning for the target around Ziggler’s waist. Given the way Dolph has been performing lately, we’re not convinced he'll be up to the task.

According to established Money in the Bank rules, any man who holds the briefcase has a full calendar year to cash in his championship opportunity. Dolph may not seem ready for the demands of a World title reign just yet, but, if he continues to wait, things might only be that much harder. Without a legitimate need to prove himself, Ziggler has faltered. As he spends more time putzing around the middle of the card, the “Show-Off” continues to become less effective at actually winning matches.

Maybe the pressure put upon main-event performers is exactly what Ziggler needs to flourish. After all, he has been labeled an underachiever in the past. In fact, it was his drive to succeed, to silence his critics, that propelled him to where he was last summer. It’s a gamble, of course, but abruptly taking the next step may be the only way for Ziggler to get back on his game.

So Dolph, if you’re reading this, you might want to consider cashing in that briefcase now. The longer you wait, the more difficult this is going to be.

Then again, maybe that’s exactly what the “Show-Off” wants …

Kevin McElvaney
PWI Contributing Writer
@OfficialPWI Contributor

Thursday, March 14, 2013

A Serious WWE Blunder

The opinions expressed in this blog post are not necessarily shared by the staff of Pro Wrestling Illustrated. Not by a long shot.

In fact, I’ve been hard pressed to find many wrestling fans who believe, as I do, that this Youtube video posted by WWE a couple of weeks ago was downright disgraceful.

In case you haven’t seen the video, which was the talk of the Internet wrestling community for a few days, it begins with Jack Swagger and Zeb Colter spewing the same anti-immigrant rhetoric as they have on television for weeks. That’s not the problem.

My beef comes with the drastic turn the promo takes around the 1:40 mark. The cameras pull back to reveal a production set and a green screen background. Colter and Swagger come out of character, even introducing themselves by their real names. They explain how wrestling promos work, and that they are simply entertainers playing roles. Colter goes as far as to say that in real-life he is friends with Jose Rodriguez, the performer portraying his mortal enemy, Alberto Del Rio. Way to sell a WrestleMania World title match.

This was all done as a retort to criticisms made by conservative political commentator Glenn Beck, who had dismissed the Swagger/Colter storyline as having been devised by “stupid wrestling people.”

The video mobilized fans to the defense of WWE. Throughout social media, even the most jaded of fans proclaimed that they were never prouder to be part of the WWE Universe and praised Swagger, Colter, and the entire promotion for “telling it like it is.”
But amid all their appreciation for the message behind the groundbreaking video, fans failed to see the considerable damage it did to the entire pro wrestling industry.

Like few other things in the sport’s history, the Swagger/Colter video shattered the illusion necessary for fans to fully enjoy pro wrestling, and it did so in a particularly flippant and reckless manner.

To a lot of wrestling fans, mine may come off like an outdated philosophy, especially in an era when just about every fan older than four (and even many younger) can separate reality from sports entertainment. But my gripe isn’t with the fact that WWE came out and said it’s all a show. It’s how they said it.

Imagine that you’re engrossed in a particularly suspenseful episode of Law & Order SVU. Detective Benson kicks down a door, opens fire, and shoots a perp to death.

Then you hear, “Cut!”

Benson looks at the camera, introduces herself as actress Mariska Hargitay, and goes on to lash out at a particular television critic who panned her show. When she’s done, the director audibly calls out, “Action!” and the scene continues.

That would be pretty absurd, wouldn’t it? Well, it’s no different than what WWE pulled with its video, complete with Colter and Swagger resuming their wrestling promo after they finished delivering their message to Beck.

To be sure, a lot has changed since the days when “Dr. D” David Shultz was ordered to assault 20/20 reporter John Stossel for even suggesting that wrestling was fake. But if the Colter/Swagger Youtube video showed anything, it’s that the collective wrestling universe has moved too far in the other direction.

Back then, protecting “kayfabe” was about pulling the wool over the fans eyes. But over the years, wrestling has evolved to the point that the wrestlers, promoters, and fans are all in on it together. To some extent, giving fans a peak behind the curtain is a good thing, as it shows that promoters and wrestlers respect fans enough to know that they don’t need to believe what they’re watching is “real” in order to enjoy it. The open nature of modern pro wrestling has also allowed wrestlers, promoters, and journalists to share—in the right context—compelling stories about what happens away from the ring without fear of reprisal.

But none of that is to say that wrestlers or promoters—especially WWE—should so flippantly tear down the fourth fall that’s necessary for pro wrestling to be successful. If you’ve followed this business for any length of time, you’ve heard about the importance of “suspending disbelief” in enjoying wrestling. Sadly, I think too many fans, wrestlers, and promoters don’t understand what that actually means.

Perhaps no institution values the importance of kayfabe more than Pro Wrestling Illustrated. We realize that for fans to fully enjoying the escapist entertainment that is pro wrestling, they need to lose themselves in its characters and storylines. That might seem obvious to some, but promoters have chipped away so much at that principle over the years that they don’t even realize when they’re breaking that rule. Ironically, much of the damage has been done by promoters intent on presenting wrestling as more “real” and “not insulting the intelligence” of fans. That kind of thing often leads to the bane of my existence as a wrestling fan: the “worked shoot.”

And really, at its core, that’s what the Colter/Swagger video was—a manufactured promotional tactic aimed at inciting emotion in fans by making them think they were watching something that wasn’t part of the show. The true nature of the video as nothing more than a publicity stunt was exposed when WWE sent TV cameras to Beck’s studio to confront him, and then put out a press release accusing him of “hiding” from WWE.

I’m all for WWE defending its fans, of which I count myself as one, from the ignorant remarks of critics who don’t understand the appeal of pro wrestling. There were several different ways for WWE to make the same point. Vince McMahon or some other WWE executive could have recorded a video message responding to Beck. I would have even accepted, somewhat begrudgingly, if the video began with Colter and Swagger out of character delivering the message to Beck.

But there’s an obvious, better option: Having Colter and Swagger respond to Beck in character. Alas, WWE apparently realized that, pulled down the original video, and replaced it with this one.

And then there’s what I’d say is the best option of all: Ignoring Beck all together. Another often-misused wrestling term is “mark.” WWE tried to prove to us that Beck was a mark for thinking WWE and its fans were comprised of “stupid wrestling people,” but ended up going out of their way to respond to a throw-away remark, and in doing so just left Beck with a worse impression of the wrestling business than he already had.

Fans who enjoyed the “shoot” promo by Colter and Swagger may have seen it as a proclamation of the fact that they’re not marks. But, along the way, they were roped into the most transparent attempt to exploit fans’ loyalty this side of the “Stand Up For WWE” political campaign.

In its truest sense, a mark is a sucker; one too gullible to realize he’s been had.

I’ll leave it at that.

Al Castle
PWI Senior Writer

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

¿Quien Es “El Generico”?

When word got out that perennial indy favorite, El Generico, had signed with WWE, the news was met with a mixture of reactions and questions. Generico’s Twitter account was flooded with congratulations, well wishes, and more than a few wistful “goodbyes.” Indy wrestling fans were largely happy for the man who’d entertained crowds across the globe for the better part of a decade. They were also full of queries about his transition to WWE. Would Generico still wear his trademark mask? Would he retain his name? Would he be transformed into an entirely different character?

Fans had apparently gotten their answer last month, when El Generico made an appearance, mask and all, for NXT. This made sense, some fans mused, because Generico’s tongue-in-cheek persona had played a huge role in making him such a sensation on the independent circuit. Why mess with a good thing? Last week, many of these same fans were shocked when it was reported that the man they’d known as El Generico made another appearance for NXT – this time sans mask, wrestling under his real name, Rami Sebei.

Sebei’s sudden changes made some fans uneasy, but there’s hardly any reason for concern. While he made a name for himself under the “Generico” persona, it was Sebei’s technical skill and in-ring presence that really made him click with fans. Indy devotees everywhere will eagerly tell you about their favorite El Generico matches, every bit as quickly as they’ll talk about his charisma and famous ring entrance.

Yes, Rami Sebei is currently competing for NXT without his trademark mask. With or without it, though, he’ll find his niche. Sebei’s natural talents and ability to connect with fans will ensure he finds a way to be successful within the realm of WWE. Previous name aside, there is nothing “generic” about this man whatsoever.

Kevin McElvaney
PWI Contributing Writer

Monday, March 11, 2013

The Double-Edged Sword of Social Media

French philosopher Michel Foucault once framed the general idea of perpetual and omnipresent surveillance under a generalized theoretical term called “panopticism.”  Foucault’s research and theory was largely applied to the study of crime and punishment, predating the rise of social media by a few decades. But the notion that people anywhere and everywhere are increasingly under close watch of the unblinking eyes of cyberspace is now an inescapable reality. And perhaps no single group of people know this better than the men and women of independent wrestling.

Of course, the decision to use social media is, by and large, a voluntary one. But while most folks might dabble a bit in one forum or another, indy grapplers often opt to go “all in” when it comes to the 'net: Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Tout…all that jazz.  I’m not going to pretend that I don’t like it at some level, either. How else would I know what my favorite indy guy had for dinner last Thursday, right? And I can deal with the steady stream of promos that wrestlers post to my Facebook wall, many in hopes that I’ll tweet them out via our official Twitter page or write about them in the next issue of PWI (Don’t worry guys and gals; I still love you all). Hey, I can’t blame them. If Zack Ryder has taught us anything, it’s that social media is the best way to get yourself over in this day and age, especially when there are so many people competing for fans’ overloaded attention spans.

The ugly side of all this is that there is such a thing as too much information, especially when the ever-present spirit of openness and one-upmanship that’s rampant in social media encourages us to share too much with casual acquaintances and friends of friends. With respect to indy wrestlers, it’s all too often that their personal foibles and the details of their “shoot” lives bleed into their in-ring personas via Facebook and Twitter, tainting the public image that they’ve worked hard to create over the course of months and years. Even when it’s a guy who has done a lot of rough and nasty stuff in the ring, sometimes a gaffe or misstep on the 'net has enough “ick factor” to alienate a handful of sensitive fans or  offend and insult en masse. I’ll never forget how psyched I was to get a Facebook friend request from an up-and-coming hardcore/smashmouth grappler from the East Coast. Then one day I saw him cutting up with his real-life friends on Facebook about the very serious subject of spousal abuse. Having spent over 10 years of my professional life working directly with the victims of intimate partner violence hasn’t left me with much of a sense of humor for the subject, it seems. Was I the only person who found that guy’s comments detestable? Don’t know. Don’t care, really. While I could’ve easily hidden his status updates from that point forward and kept some kind of personal or quasi-professional connection to him, I was far too disgusted to even consider that as an option. So much for our virtual “friendship.”

Does that hurt the guy’s career in the broad scheme of things? Nope. But it could have if the stakes were higher and if his audience was bigger. Consider the incident last year in which Tensai posted a racially insensitive tweet; the backlash was swift and significant, leaving the publicly traded corporate monolith WWE in damage-control mode.  They’ve been there before, too. In 2011, Michael Cole garnered a healthy amount of criticism for a homophobic comment he’d posted on Twitter about his colleague Josh Matthews. (Conversely, CM Punk didn’t attract much scorn at all when he invited one of his Twitter followers to commit suicide a few months ago when the fan took issue with CM Punk's support for gay marriage.) It’s a safe bet that WWE and TNA would absolutely love to do without these kind of periodic prairie fires, which is why both companies often set specific parameters and expectations regarding wrestlers’ participation in social media, as well as podcasts and small-market radio shows. Indy folks usually aren’t subject to those kinds of controls and filters, though. Individual sensibilities vary from person to person; that is, what is offensive to some might well be hilarious to others. And sometimes, one can’t depend on his or her own standards to determine what could invoke intrigue and anger versus what will provoke anger and resentment. A few months ago, I saw a scenario play out over Facebook in which two indy workers – one Arab-American and the other Native American – traded video promos laden with ethnic jokes over an extended period of time. Most fans didn’t bat an eye, and some even lapped it up. But once their work together ended, the Arab-American found that standards and sensibilities were very, very different when he directed some racially charged language and imagery against his next opponent, who happened to be African-American. The ensuing backlash required him to walk back and retract the offending material, but in doing so, he also made a candidly personal appeal to his peers and fans, while noting that he was genuinely surprised at the reaction he’d received.

Most of the worker/fan dynamic that social media brings about is decidedly positive. Workers feel closer to their fans and fans enjoy an occasional brush with greatness. I don’t mean to blame the wrestlers for making things weird, either. Besides, it’s not only the wrestlers that cross the line on social media. There is, in fact, a lot of concern about obsessive fans who might be tempted to take things too far, an issue that was recently brought to the forefront when TNA required scores of indy wrestlers to disclose their real-life names to participate in their 'net-driven “Gut Check Challenge.” Dating back to the good ol’ days of kayfabe, the danger of a single misguided fan was always there, perhaps exemplified in the 1976 incident in which Ole Anderson was stabbed by a disgruntled fan after wrestling a match in Greenville, South Carolina. Harrowing as that tale is, the potential for some fans to become obsessive is magnified through social media.

Generally speaking, cyberstalking – defined by the National Institute of Justice as  “the use of technology to stalk victims… [including] the pursuit, harassment, or contact of others in an unsolicited fashion initially via the Internet and e-mail” is a burgeoning problem. It’s difficult to ascertain valid and reliable statistic on conduct that is both widespread and under-reported, but the lack of hard and fast data regarding victimization shouldn’t discourage folks from using common sense in deciding whether or not to allow relative strangers to become too invested in their professional and private lives.

For the most part, indy wrestlers don’t make a lot of money in their line of work. Many of them do what they do week in and week out in hopes that they’ll make the jump to the big leagues someday. They keep the faith at great personal expense, spending days on the road with no compensation for travel, lodging, gear and all the other expenses that come with the territory.  Reaching out to fans for financial assistance in the form of gifts has, for some indy grapplers, become a relatively common practice. Lots of people have “wish lists” on sites like and there’s certainly not anything wrong with that. But it is just a little weird to see wrestlers actively soliciting their lists via social media. I was particularly taken aback when I recently saw a Chicago-area lady grappler hitting up a fan for some pricey Star Wars-themed merch via the guy’s Facebook wall. There’s certainly no room to blame the victim when bad things happen, but there is something to be said for establishing and maintaining healthy boundaries when it comes to putting yourself out there for everyone to see. Some might explain this away in the name of the “free market” created by a quid pro quo relationship between an entertainer and a fan. But what if the fan has a diminished mental capacity; someone who is easily persuaded to spend large amounts of a fixed income just to bring a fleeting smile to the face of his favorite female wrestler? At best, targeting someone like that in hopes that he’ll buy a lavish gift or two is almost predatory. What if he’s unhinged, infatuated, or some kind of predator? In those cases, encouraging such a person to believe that he or she enjoys any level of intimacy with an object of affection that is, in reality, not actually reciprocated is almost certainly a recipe for disaster.

Social media is so many things all at the same time: It’s an outlet, a resource, a forum, and a marketplace. It’s also a field of land mines, poisonous snakes, and every kind of perp your parents ever warned you about. Navigating it requires a lot of common sense and vigilance, tempered with a good amount self-respect. 

Mike Bessler
PWI Contributing Writer
@OfficialPWI Contributor

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

An Ending And A Beginning

Bruno Sammartino is very special to me in so many ways, but here's one that I'd say is rather unique. The very first time I ever attended a wrestling card at Madison Square Garden was on January 18, 1971, the day Bruno's seven-and-a-half-year WWWF title reign was ended by Ivan Koloff. I wasn't there as merely a fan, though. This date marked my debut as a pro wrestling journalist, reporting for the inaugural issue of my own newsletter, Wrestling Results (what an imaginative title!).

This 14-year-old, seated four rows from the top of MSG, watched the matches, jotting notes on a manila envelope that also served as the carrier for the night's program. Later, I would translate my scribble into a match report that would appear in Wrestling Results' February 1971 issue (cover price: 25 cents).

Here it is, just as it appeared more than 42 years ago:

Ivan Koloff defeated Bruno Sammartino. This was the main event in which Ivan Koloff (6', 298 pounds) from Russia challenged Bruno Sammartino (6', 265 pounds) from Italy. Bruno started quickly with a couple of fancy take-downs. When it came to a battle of strength, the two titans proved to be equal. Sammartino had the edge in the match and the fans loved it. Suddenly Koloff went on the offensive and got Bruno down to the mat. He then climbed to the top rope and dove down on Bruno and easily pinned him. Bruno Sammartinio held the championship ever since May 17, 1963 when he defeated Buddy Rogers in 48 seconds. He lost the belt in 14:55 before 21,106 stunned fans.

Stu Saks

Wrestling Results (1971-1974)
Pro Wrestling Illustrated (1987-)

Thursday, January 24, 2013

CM Punk’s Reign: A Historical Perspective

If you ask around, it seems to be the consensus among fans and insiders alike that The Rock will defeat CM Punk for the WWE championship at the Royal Rumble on Sunday, ending Punk’s title reign at 434 days and setting up a WrestleMania rematch with John Cena.

Regardless of the outcome, Punk’s reign is the sixth longest in the 50-year history of that title, and combined with his first 2011 reign, Punk ranks 10th in total days as WWE champion. To understand how much of a feat that is in this day and age, consider the length of title reigns in the other five active WWE titles:

• The WWE World championship has changed hands five times since Survivor Series 2011 and nine times overall in 2011 alone. Triple-H and Batista are the only two men to hold the World title for even half as many consecutive days as Punk has held the WWE title.

• Since Punk’s reign began, the Intercontinental and U.S. championships have changed hands a combined 11 times. And in WWE history, only one man has held either one of these titles longer than Punk has: The Honky Tonk Man. If you count the NWA/WCW version of the U.S. title, that number jumps to a whopping two, thanks to Lex Luger’s 500-plus day reign in 1989-90.

• The WWE tag team championship has changed hands three times since Survivor Series 2011. The only reign that exceeded Punk’s belongs to Demolition, who enjoyed a 478-day run between WrestleMania 4 and July 1989.

• The Divas title has changed hands four times since November 2011, and outside of the Fabulous Moolah’s 28-year stranglehold on the title, only three women (Trish Stratus, Sensational Sherri, and Rockin’ Robin) have held either the Women’s or Divas title longer than Punk had held the WWE title.

No, Punk will never eclipse Bruno Sammartino’s 2,803-day reign, but that was in a different era. If CM gets past The Rock on Sunday and announces he’s taking aim at the all-time mark, after we stop laughing, we’ll discuss that in a future blog.
Louie Dee
PWI Contributing Writer